Life on Venus?

Darby Dar, chair of the astronomy department, analyzing spectrometric data.

By Keely Savoie

There is a whiff of possible life in Venus’s atmosphere. An international group of scientists reported in the journal Nature Astronomy that the famously inhospitable planet’s atmosphere contains traces of phosphine, a gas that is associated with life where there is no oxygen. On Earth, it’s found in sewage facilities and in the guts of living animals. 

But just the presence of phosphine doesn’t necessarily indicate life, said Mount Holyoke’s Darby Dyar, chair of the astronomy department, in an interview with The Wall Street Journal.

“The experiment was done meticulously,” said Dyar, who is also the Kennedy-Schelkunoff Professor of Astronomy. “The problem is that we haven’t thought too much about whether phosphine can be created abiotically on Venus, in part because we know so little about the planet and its chemistry.” 

Mashable also spoke to Dyar about the origins of the belief that the planet might harbor life: Carl Sagan famously hypothesized in 1967 that life might exist in the planet’s clouds. 

"Sagan’s work on Venus was formative, though few today remember his impact," she said. "This finding may be the first of many to come as NASA and other countries renew a Venus exploration program." 

Dyar also spoke to the Washington PostSpace.com, and Monte Belmonte of WRSI, a western Massachusetts radio station, on the topic, earning herself the nickname of “Doctor Planet.”

Read more. 

Related News

Tamia Williams looking directly into the camera and smiling.

Making physics fun

Mount Holyoke alum Tamia Williams ’18 combines her love of science and art to teach others how to enjoy physics.

This is a stylized drawing of a healthy liver on the left side and a liver with cirrhosis on the right.

Best in show

Mount Holyoke student Amelia Tran ’21 was honored at the Electronic Undergraduate Statistics Research Conference for her video presentation.

This is an abstracted neural stem cell on a teal background. It was made with mirrors, hand embroidery and paint.

Vaping perils

Maternal vaping affects offspring’s brains, says Associate Professor Jared Schwartzer of Mount Holyoke.

This is “Lit,” by Laura Bundeson, a hand-embroidered colorful representation of a brain, with LED lights.

The brains behind teaching the brain

Mount Holyoke visiting professor Jane Couperus was awarded a National Science Foundation grant to bring brain activity analysis techniques to the world.

Screen shot of TV news show with Elizabeth Markovits in the lower right hand corner.

The race for the White House

Mount Holyoke College Professor Elizabeth Markovits appeared on “The State We’re In” to discuss the race for the White House.  

Find more stories >